Polling day. My first lie-in for a long time is rudely interrupted
by the newsdesk. A late start, arriving at the House of Commons at
noon, but there’s a marathon ahead and I feel tired. Our political team
has been working between 12 and 15-hour days, six days a week for the
past four weeks in the run up to the general election.
For the first edition, I write about the Cabinet reshuffle Tony
Blair will carry out if he wins a third term. At 7.30pm, my colleagues
and I grab a quick bite at Pizza Express in Victoria Street. I am lucky
to have such a strong team: my deputy Colin Brown; chief political
correspondent Marie Woolf; home affairs correspondent Nigel Morris; and
political correspondent Ben Russell. We all get on well and help each
other – not always the case in journalism. In the restaurant, we have a
sweepstake on Labour’s majority. I plump for 77 and turn out to be the
At 9pm we head to The Independent’s office in Canary
Wharf, where we rush out four more editions. The mood changes during
the night. Although Blair will win his historic third term, Labour will
not do as well as it had hoped.
We change our headlines between editions to reflect this.
There’s a good team spirit and it’s all hands to the pump.
only one cock-up and it’s mine. In the main story, I quote the Labour
left-winger Bob Marshall-Andrews as blaming Blair after conceding
defeat in his Medway constituency.
At 5am, after the paper and its weary staff had gone to bed, he holds his seat after all.
We leave the office just before 4.30am for a hotel in Canary Wharf. I slump into bed at 4.45am and fall asleep.
Just after 5am, my mobile rings.
the left-wing Campaign Group. I struggle to get back to sleep. I wake
at 7.30am, calculate that I’ve had just over an hour of sleep, but put
the television and radio on.
It must be the only time that I start work without reading all the
newspapers, even the late editions are overtaken by the TV and radio. I
do read the Evening Standard, though.
It’s a frantic day. I have two big projects: my weekly column and a
main news story. The newsdesk adds a third: a page three piece on
Gordon Brown. My favourite story of the day is Ben Russell’s analysis
of the voting records of rebel Labour MPs.
The main story is
Blair’s Cabinet reshuffle. Frustratingly, it is not announced until
8.45pm. I have 15 minutes to write it up for the next edition.
home on the tube, I fall asleep. Other passengers think I’m drunk. I
want to tell them I haven’t touched a drop for days. I get home at
10.40pm. If we had a dog, my dinner would be in it.
Sunday. I struggle out of bed at 7am. Marie Woolf and I are working at Westminster.
Colin Brown, an absolute rock, comes in on his day off to interview the Tory frontbencher Alan Duncan.
and I hit the phones and find that, in private, Cabinet ministers
believe that Blair will have to step down in about 18 months, which is
much earlier than he wants. It’s the most significant story I’ve had
for ages and I twice plead for it to be the splash. But the paper wants
a change of pace after the election so instead, we splash on a story
about Britain’s vanishing flowers, with a big picture of one on the
If we had a cat, I would kick it. I tell myself to
keep cool: the fact is, The Independent’s innovative front pages have
helped us to raise our circulation by 20 per cent since we launched our
compact version 18 months ago.
I race home through amber traffic
lights, trying to get back in time to watch 24 at 9pm with my wife
Jacquie. I arrive at 20:59:59, as the programme would put it. Think I
must be getting even less sleep than its unshaven hero Jack Bauer.
Another day, another reshuffle, this time of the junior ministerial
ranks. I tell Jacquie I’ll be home for dinner, but shouldn’t have
The reshuffle is not announced until 7.35pm, but I scramble a story
at 7pm for the first edition. Unfortunately, I am so tired that I
manage to call Margaret Hodge ‘Margaret Thatcher’ and it appears in one
edition. I am utterly exhausted, but Nigel Morris and Ben Russell bail
I get home at 10.30pm and eat my reheated dinner watching
Newsnight. The European Parliament is discussing Britain’s opt-out from
the EU’s 48-hour maximum working week. I would certainly like to opt in
and calculate that I have worked 95 hours in the past week.
I feel better after a day away from the maelstrom at Westminster.
Blair is addressing the Parliamentary Labour Party so I join the scrum
of hacks outside Commons Committee Room 14. Interestingly, Blair
doesn’t say he’ll serve a full term; our story seems to be coming good.
I have time to reflect on The Independent’s election coverage and
look back with pride. Colin Brown had a great scoop with Brian
Sedgemore’s defection to the Liberal Democrats; we revealed how Tory
candidates were exploiting the immigration issue; we disclosed the
government’s hidden agenda on nuclear power and nuclear weapons and we
exposed Labour’s warning that voting Liberal Democrat could put Michael
Howard into Downing Street as over-the-top. For good measure, our final
opinion poll by NOP –Labour 36 per cent, Tories 33 per cent and Lib
Dems 23 per cent – called it exactly right.
Thankfully, the Labour MPs meet at lunchtime, so I get away by 7.30pm. I even manage a haircut on the way home.
The election frenzy is almost over.
Luckily for me, I think politics is going to be even more interesting after the election than during it.